RNC Chairman Has Difficult First Month

Party members say controversy distracts from GOPs message

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Steele

Michael Steele’s tenure as the new—and first African American—chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) has gotten off to quite a rocky start. Although he’s been in office a little over one month, there have already been calls for his resignation.

Steele was elected in part because of his charismatic personality and ability to put a new face on the party at a time when the world was still celebrating this nation’s first black president. But he’s also been accused of being impulsive, impetuous, and perhaps too spontaneous for his own good.

Although said to be media savvy, Steele has a penchant for saying things that offend the sensibilities of his party’s faithful. He has promised a “hip-hop makeover” that will even attract “one-armed midgets” to the GOP and has a penchant for using terminology — such as “frigging awesome” and “slum love” — that one committee member says doesn’t instill confidence in the base, especially in the South, and suggests a lack of depth.

Recently, Steele has made some very public missteps, the most embarrassing of which was his public clash with conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, and now some Republicans are worried. At a time when their party is so beleaguered, have they made the mistake of choosing style over substance?

That’s certainly a concern for North Carolina RNC member Dr. Ada Fisher, one of the committee’s few blacks. In a memo to the RNC’s transition team that was leaked to The Hill political newspaper, she suggested that Steele should consider stepping down. According to Fisher and others, Steele’s top two priorities must be to raise money and help Republican candidates win elections. “But when you’re diverted from that purpose by a lot of different things, you can’t be effective,” she says.

Fisher also wonders why several top positions, including finance chairman, political director, national finance director, and legal counsel, remain unfilled. “I’ve been a manager in corporate America and tried to get my positions filled early and fast to hit the ground running. We haven’t hit the ground running, and the 2010 elections are just 15 months away,” Fisher says.

Glen McCall, another black committee member, is not yet ready to call for Steele’s resignation, but he does have concerns. He applauds the chairman’s efforts to streamline the RNC’s staff and budget but wants to see some results.

“That’s what I’m hearing from our folks in South Carolina: What’s actually happened since he took over? What strategies are in place?” McCall says. “We’re not seeing much of that, but we are seeing him on television. That’s good and there’s a time for that, but we also want to see some tangible results from the RNC. Whether we agree or disagree with Obama, at least he’s putting forth his plan and that’s what we’re not seeing.”

McCall, who along with Fisher supported Katon Dawson for GOP chairman, believes that while it’s important to reach out

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